Recent Trends in Organized Crime in Japan: Yakuza vs the Police, & Foreign Crime Gangs ~ Part 2 21世紀のやくざ ―― 日本における組織犯罪の最近動向


February 11, 2012

Recent Trends in Organized Crime in Japan: Yakuza vs the Police, & Foreign Crime Gangs ~ Part 2 21世紀のやくざ ―― 日本における組織犯罪の最近動向
Recent Trends in Organized Crime in Japan: Yakuza vs the Police, & Foreign Crime Gangs ~ Part 2 21世紀のやくざ ―― 日本における組織犯罪の最近動向

Volume 10 | Issue 7 | Number 1

Article ID 3692


Recent Trends in Organized Crime in Japan: Yakuza vs the Police, & Foreign Crime Gangs ~ Part 2    21世紀のやくざ ―― 日本における組織犯罪の最近動向

Andrew Rankin

II The State, the Police and the Yakuza: Control or Symbiosis?

The Yakuza and the NPA

The popular status of outlaws logically relates to the integrity of the legal system outside which they operate. Putting it simply, for villains to look bad, the police need to look good. Tamura Eitarō has shown how the chivalrous image enjoyed by nineteenth-century yakuza stemmed in part from public disgust for corruption and violence by the police squads who hunted them.1 A similar problem confronts the NPA today. Since the early 2000s police corruption has been the subject of increasingly numerous academic articles and media reports.  Ichikawa Hiro, a lawyer who gave testimony on police corruption in the Diet, says, ‘There is an institutionalized culture of illicit money-making in the NPA, and since it has gone on for so long it is now very deep-rooted’ (Akahata 2004:116). In 2009 a veteran police officer named Senba Toshirō, while still serving on the force, published a lengthy exposé of police corruption: financial scams, fabricated evidence, forced confessions, beatings of suspects, drug abuse by police officers, embezzlement from police slush funds, and much else. Senba’s sensational conclusion: ‘The largest organized crime gang in Japan today is the National Police Agency’ (Senba 2009:73).

As a case study of the sort of situation that Senba describes we might consider the recent history of the pachinko industry. The yakuza first infiltrated peripheral areas of the pachinko industry during the 1970s. Supplies of gifts to pachinko hall stores, for example, provided effective camouflage for extorting security payments. In the 1980s the police announced their intention to eliminate these yakuza rackets. They accomplished this with great success. Today pachinko business owners need not placate the yakuza.  Instead they must placate the Security Electronics and Communications Technology Association (SECTA; referred to in Japanese as the Hōtsūkyō). A governmental body founded in 1985, SECTA is the sole regulator of the entire pachinko industry, issuing permits for pachinko halls, conducting safety inspections of pachinko machine factories, and so on. Given the vast sums of money at stake – annual pachinko earnings are estimated at ¥30 trillion – SECTA is an immensely powerful organization.

Though it is unclear what types of skills are required to work at SECTA, being a recently retired police officer seems to be a plus.  Yamamoto Shizuhiko, chairman of SECTA until 2005, was formerly the Director-General of the NPA, and his successor, Yoshino Jun, is a former Commissioner of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.  A former bureau chief at the NPA’s Communications Division and a former chief of the Fukuoka Police Department sit on the Board of Directors.2 Investigative journalists estimate that one third of SECTA’s employees are ex-policemen.3 Ex-policemen who cannot find a post to their liking at SECTA may choose from a number of related organizations, such as the associations of wholesalers who supply gifts to the pachinko halls, or any of the companies that provide card-reading machines for pachinko halls; all of these have security departments and monitoring teams that are heavily populated by ex-policemen.  Many pachinko machine manufacturers and pachinko owners’ associations retain ex-policemen as consultants simply to ensure smooth relations with SECTA. In short, all that appears to have happened is that the police have closed down the yakuza rackets and set up their own rackets, creating comfortable retirement posts for themselves while causing more trouble and expense for pachinko businesses than the yakuza ever did.

As Peter Hill says, ‘The police and the yakuza are ultimately rivals in the market for protection’ (Hill 2006:258). The yakuza themselves are alert to this phenomenon. A Tokyo gangster says, ‘Ever since the cops started getting tough, the gangs have lost a lot of their power to take kickbacks and collect debts.  And what happens to that power vacuum?  Out goes the yakuza gang and in comes the Sakuradamon gang [i.e. the Metropolitan Police Department, headquartered in Sakuradamon]’.4

January 2012: Police raid on a yakuza gang headquarters
January 2012: Police raid a yakuza gang headquarter

One complicating factor is the prevalence of bribery and protection agreements, and other forms of collusion, between police and the yakuza.  Police officers may expect or demand free drinks and service in bars, clubs, and commercial sex businesses within a gang’s territory; the gang may offer these things free to the police whether they demand it or not.  In return, police officers ignore minor legal violations, or raid another gang’s territory.  There is also a long tradition of plea-bargaining, known in yakuza slang as chinkoro, where gang members give the police information in exchange for leniency. All such arrangements are said to have become less frequent and less dependable in recent years.

Even so, cases where police officers forewarn local gang bosses about impending police raids are still being reported.5 A Hokkaido detective who held the police record for most firearms confiscated in a single year eventually confessed that he had cut a deal with a Hakodate yakuza gang: they gave him the guns and in return he pretended not to notice their 2-ton shipment of cannabis and crystal meth.6 In 2008 as many as 23 detectives and inspectors in the anti-yakuza squad of the Aichi Police Department were implicated in a bribery scandal involving the Blue Group, a Nagoya-based federation of brothel-owners and moneylenders with strong ties to the Kōdō-kai. Though one police inspector, who admitted to having accepted a ‘loan’ of ¥8.5 million from the Blue Group, received an official reprimand, the internal investigation otherwise appears to have fizzled out.7

Critics of the police can also point to poor results. In 2010 the NPA arrested 25,681 gangsters, roughly one-third of the entire yakuza population.8 That figure sounds impressive, but it is unchanged in two decades: the police were also arresting one-third of the yakuza population in the early 1990s. Crucially, the prosecution rate of yakuza arrestees has declined since then: in 1991 prosecutors filed charges in 81% of cases; by 2010 that figure had dropped to 68.2%.9 Despite all the new legislation and talk of eradication, then, the yakuza are actually safer from prosecution today than they were twenty years ago. While there are various influential factors here – outsourcing by yakuza of overtly criminal activities to non-yakuza collaborators, less cooperation between the yakuza and the police, greater secrecy of yakuza operations, and so on – the main problem is of course the failure of police to obtain strong evidence. The NPA often seems more concerned with fulfilling self-imposed quotas (number of guns confiscated, number of brothels raided, number of arrests per month, etc.) than with putting the gangsters in jail. At the end of 2010 the NPA proudly announced that it had arrested a record 21 bosses of the major (first-tier) Yamaguchi-gumi gangs that year. However, only seven were actually prosecuted and the charges in each case were trifling: renting an apartment under a false name, erecting a building without a permit, etc.10 While there is no question that police raids of yakuza-run businesses and confiscations of yakuza profits are hurting the yakuza financially, the falling number of prosecutions suggests that many arrests constitute little more than harassment.

There remains a strong tendency among Japanese police detectives to base their cases on confessions, which they do not hesitate to coerce from suspects.  Courts have been less tolerant of this practice in recent years.  The two Kudō-kai gangsters acquitted of murdering a rival in the 2010 case mentioned earlier had both signed their names to confessions helpfully printed out for them by detectives. The judge deemed the confessions to be unreliable, and the only other evidence was circumstantial.11

Though elements of the Japanese media are resistant to police requests for yet more powers, it must be noted that some aspects of Japan’s organized crime laws are still mild in comparison with those of other developed countries. Japan’s Wiretapping Law, passed in 2000, allows wiretapping (tsūshin bōju: the interception of telephone or internet communications, not the use of bugging devices) only in the most serious cases, such as gun-running and gangland murder plots.  In 2010 investigators used wiretaps in just 10 cases, from which, however, they made a record 47 arrests.12 Sting operations (otori-sōsa) have been legal in Japan only since 2004 and are mostly confined to street-level drug busts where policemen pose as dealers or buyers. Deep undercover operations by law enforcement agents within yakuza gangs, in the manner of mafia-infiltrations by FBI agents in the US, do not appear to have been attempted and would in any case have questionable legality.

Another problem in the past has been the lack of an effective witness protection program in Japan. Although police will provide ad hoc ‘personal protection’ (shinpen hogo) for trial witnesses, there is no nationwide program for offering new identities to those who have testified and permanently relocating them and their families.  Concerns about intimidation were raised in the Kudō-kai murder trial, and police are currently keeping close guard over the home of the chief witness in the extortion case against Kōdō-kai chairman Takayama. However, given the stream of lawsuits now being brought against the Yamaguchi-gumi godfather, and against other bosses and senior gangsters, it is clear that the lack of a witness protection program is no longer a strong disincentive to litigants or witnesses.  It seems that the Japanese do not fear the yakuza as much as they used to. 

Yakuza-exclusion ordinances

The latest countermeasures devised and promoted by NPA bureaucrats are the yakuza-exclusion ordinances, introduced nationwide in 2011. These ordinances oblige individuals and companies to ‘endeavor’ (tsutomeru) to confirm they are not ‘granting profits’ (rieki kyōyo) to any individual or company having ‘close contact’ (missetsu na kankei) with a yakuza gang or gang member.13 While legal experts have criticized the vagueness of these terms, many pundits see this vagueness as strategic.  ‘It’s in the interest of the authorities to make the rules unclear,’ says one journalist, ‘because then everyone will end up looking to the police for the final decision, which is exactly what the police want’.14 To facilitate that process the NPA has set up online and telephone information services for people seeking clarification of ordinance stipulations.15 In addition, following a surge in shooting incidents in 2011 the NPA has recently announced the formation of new ‘anti-yakuza protection squads’ to guard individuals and companies that might be at risk of attack from yakuza gangs. Each prefectural police department will have a ‘director of protection’ (hogo taisakukan) to assess threats and protect the public from yakuza violence. Critics grumble that the police ought to be doing this already.16

Yamaguchi-gumi godfather Tsukasa gave a rare newspaper interview to denounce the exclusion ordinances as a ‘policy of social discrimination’ (mibun seisaku) against the yakuza.17 But few people sympathize with the gangsters. The main concern is the effect of the ordinances on legitimate business.  Initial fears that the ordinances would be disadvantageous to those who work innocently for the yakuza (caterers, couriers, entertainers, etc.) have been justified: many gangs have cancelled long-standing contracts for lunch boxes, seasonal gifts, and banquet halls.18 Disruption of corporate deals is another possibility. A law professor asks, ‘If a private equity fund launches a tender offer for a major Japanese company, does it have to get all the shareholders to swear they are not gangsters and cancel the whole transaction if it turns out one of them is? Can ‘clean’ shareholders who oppose the bid use an unsupported claim that other shareholders are yakuza-tainted to argue that an investment fund should go away?’19

The penalties for non-compliance with the exclusion ordinances are not severe: a maximum fine of ¥500,000 or imprisonment of up to one year.  The significance of the legislation is in the augmented powers granted to police, who are permitted to enter and search the property of any individual or company they suspect of non-compliance, apparently without a warrant. The potential for abuse is obvious, and some highly questionable cases are already coming to light.  Police in Fukuoka recently cautioned a printing firm that had made business cards for a yakuza boss.20 It is easy to imagine how that situation will play out: to prevent further harassment the owner of the printing firm will need to ingratiate himself with the local police department.  For these reasons, many commentators view the exclusion ordinances as little more than empire-building by the NPA.

Civic anti-yakuza campaigns

The new century has seen the rise of vigorous anti-yakuza campaigns organized by citizens’ groups, which work in close cooperation with police. Campaigners distribute posters and pamphlets, publicize their activities on local radio stations, and run confidential advisory services for people with yakuza-related problems. Police officers visit businesses, factories, town halls, and temples to give instructions on how to deal with yakuza intimidation. Civic anti-yakuza demonstrations have become strident and combative in ways not seen before. Aware that the gangs traditionally flaunt their presence at festivals, many citizens’ groups now sponsor an ‘anti-yakuza float’ in their local festival procession. In February 2010 a citizens group in Wakayama attracted attention by installing their newly established anti-yakuza center in an office that had previously been the headquarters of the local yakuza gang.21

Anti-yakuza campaigners at a baseball game
Anti-yakuza campaigners at a baseball game

Some campaigners have confronted the yakuza directly by staging loud demonstrations in front of buildings where gangs have purchased office space. In 2009 protestors in Tokyo successfully stalled an attempt by the Inagawa-kai to move its headquarters from Roppongi to Akasaka.  Western journalists have hailed these sorts of campaigns as ‘remarkable act[s] of collective courage’.22 But similar campaigns are sometimes waged against pachinko halls and funeral parlors.  No one wants to eradicate funeral parlors; people just don’t want one near their own home or place of business.  Locals who campaign against yakuza offices claim to be worried about their children (‘There is an elementary school only two hundred meters away’) or their own safety (‘We might get caught in the crossfire of a gang war’).23 It is more likely that they have money on their minds.  The known presence of a yakuza office can adversely affect house prices in the surrounding area, or make property more difficult to sell.  Owners of unlicensed bars, mahjong parlors, sex clubs, and other shady businesses have most to lose, since a yakuza gang can introduce protection rackets that last for decades. Even when successful, local anti-yakuza campaigns do not force the gangs to disband, but only to look for space elsewhere. While this is no doubt troublesome for the gangs, it is unlikely to disrupt their activities in any significant way. No one has produced evidence to show that forced relocations of yakuza offices actually reduce organized crime. We must therefore assume that the sum effect of these campaigns is only to encourage the yakuza toward greater secrecy, duplicity, and ruthlessness, thereby potentially worsening the overall situation.

A few civic centers have set up employment programs to help ex-yakuza secure work. But the organizers concede that these programs have been unsuccessful, supposedly due to ‘the unwillingness of former gang members to do ordinary jobs, their sometimes poor physical health, their lack of proper work skills, and other unfavorable factors such as their tattoos and missing fingers’, with the result that, in the majority of cases, ‘even those individuals who managed to find employment did not stick with it for very long’ (Bōtsui sentā 2003:44).

The torrent of lawsuits, injunctions, appeals, summonses, petitions, indemnity claims and other civil actions generated by citizens’ groups and anti-yakuza campaigners around the country means plenty of work for Japan’s attorneys.  It is perhaps no surprise, then, that one of the driving forces behind the anti-yakuza campaigns is the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA). Since 2000 the JFBA has published a plethora of anti-yakuza bulletins and booklets. Though these publications lack methodological discipline and routinely sink to the level of scaremongering, on a social level they have more influence than NPA reports, which are not read widely by the general public. JFBA publications unfailingly paint a dire picture, in which peaceful and law-abiding communities are menaced on all sides by the forces of evil. The yakuza, it seems, are only the tip of the iceberg. JFBA publications have recently begun to direct attention beyond the gangs towards more nebulous ‘antisocial forces’ (hanshakai-teki seiryoku), which it says, lurk behind every criminal act.24

But what exactly is an antisocial force? According to the JFBA, an antisocial force is ‘any group or individual who employs violence, intimidation, or fraudulent means to secure illicit financial gain’ (JFBA 2010:151). In Japan, as elsewhere, corruption can reach to the highest levels of authority, and considering that it is not extraordinary for Japanese politicians and even prime ministers to use fraudulent means to secure illicit financial gain, one wonders how far the JFBA intends to take its crusade.25 Nonetheless, campaigners and policymakers alike have embraced the new jargon.  A number of business consultants and crisis-management firms now offer screening services to assist clients in identifying supposedly suspicious businesses or individuals operating in the corporate world.  One such agency charges its clients an annual fee of ¥3 million for access to its ‘antisocial forces’ database.26

There are already concerns that even the term ‘antisocial forces’ may not be sufficiently malleable. After an NPA report mentioned the difficulty of monitoring ‘persons who collaborate with the yakuza’, the JFBA picked up on the expression. In its latest publications the JFBA recommends targeting not only the yakuza gangsters but also their ‘collaborators’ (kyōseisha), specifically, ‘people who hide their connections to yakuza gangs while cooperating with them in money-making enterprises, or who use the intimidating power, information networks, and financial resources of the yakuza to increase their own profits’; in short, ‘anyone who can be shown to have a personal or financial connection to yakuza groups’ (JFBA 2010:149-151).27

Zeal for yakuza-hunting has recently intensified. There are now nearly 4,000 anti-yakuza volunteer groups in Tokyo alone.  These groups compile lists of suspected gangsters and collaborators and circulate them to estate agents, landlords, hotels, and small business owners.  There are campaigns to prevent yakuza from participating in public auctions, to stop them from receiving welfare benefits, and to expel them from public housing projects. An Osaka judge recently sentenced a yakuza boss to ten months in jail for offering financial aid to the family of an incarcerated subordinate, an act of charity made unlawful by yet another addition to the Anti-Yakuza Law.28 A Fukuoka judge jailed a yakuza boss for seven months for ‘exposing a tattoo in a bathing house’.29 A yakuza who concealed his gang affiliation when applying for membership of a golf club was arrested and charged with fraud.30 Many convenience stores and booksellers have ceded to pressure from campaigners and removed yakuza-themed comics from their shelves.  Consorting with yakuza has become a career-killer for celebrities: in August 2011 popular comedian Shimada Shinsuke felt obliged to retire from show business after the press publicized his friendship with Hashimoto Hirofumi, boss of the Kyokushin Rengō-kai in Osaka.31

Police have repeatedly urged hotels and hot spring resorts to refuse their services to all ‘yakuza-connected persons’ (bōryokudan kankeisha). The JFBA has reminded hotel owners that they are legally entitled to refuse board to ‘persons who are likely to commit illegal acts such as gambling’ (JFBA 2004:132-133). Under pressure from police, the Sumo Federation has announced a ban on yakuza members from the special seating area around the ring, which is reserved for individuals who have made sizeable donations to the Federation.  The ban is being strictly enforced: on January 18, 2010, the ninth day of the New Year tournament at Ryōgoku Stadium, police and stadium officials escorted a suspected Sumiyoshi-kai boss from the special seating area.32 Even Buddhist temples have been persuaded to impose bans on worship by members of yakuza gangs.33

Many of these new prohibitions appear to be purely discriminatory, with no direct or obvious relevance to crime control. Often they apply not only to members of yakuza gangs but also to their families and dependents.  Again, critics point to the vagueness of the phrase ‘yakuza-connected persons’ and assert the infeasibility of effective implementation.34 The few gangsters who have spoken out seem genuinely dismayed by the scale and animosity of the anti-yakuza movement. ‘People are talking about us yakuza as if we are the scum of the earth,’ laments a recently retired gang boss, ‘but I have to ask: Are non-yakuza really such wonderful people?’ (Gōtō 2010:291).

Organized crime and minorities

As indicated above, the prevailing trend today is to define yakuza as a distinct social class rather than as an individual career choice. One consequence of this has been to fuel a common inclination to blame organized crime on socially marginalized groups.

The issue is intrinsic to the yakuza concept. Though the word yakuza today denotes a gangster, its original meaning was ‘useless’: the yakuza are the useless garbage at the bottom of society.35 The men who, in the early 1900s, banded together to form the first yakuza gangs were mostly day-laborers and migrant workers. Yakuza historians assume that these early gangs would have included large numbers of so-called Burakumin, socially stigmatized Japanese who are said to be descended from feudal outcastes. A century later, the connection between yakuza and Burakumin remains strong in the public consciousness. In Japanese libraries, books on the yakuza are invariably stacked alongside books on the Burakumin, as if they address the same fundamental issue.  The yakuza themselves exploit the situation by posing as Burakumin rights groups and pressuring businesses to pay them compensation or hush money.

Another minority group commonly linked to the yakuza is Japan’s Korean community. This link is more recent: before the war, anti-Korean sentiment was so intense that Koreans did not even have the freedom to join the yakuza.36 In the postwar black market economy Koreans in Japan took advantage of their overseas connections to secure lucrative smuggling routes, and many of these Korean smuggling gangs were eventually subsumed into the big yakuza syndicates. For much of the postwar period Burakumin and Koreans suffered similar forms of social discrimination, being kept at the bottom of the work pile and often living together in impoverished areas where gambling, smuggling, and gang activity were common.37

Today, it is very difficult to quantify the ethnic or genealogic composition of the yakuza. The Burakumin population is known to be particularly dense in Hyōgo prefecture, home of the Yamaguchi-gumi.  On the other hand, the second largest yakuza syndicate, the Sumiyoshi-kai, has for decades been based in central Tokyo and operates heavily in Ginza, an area not known for Burakumin slums. The importance of Korea as a transshipment point for Japan’s drugs will naturally have created opportunities for Koreans resident in Japan. Kiyota Jirō, who became fifth godfather of the Inagawa-kai in April 2010, is a Japan-born Korean national; he is, however, the first Korean to lead the syndicate in its 60-year history.

Inagawa-kai godfather Kiyota Jiro sips ceremonial sake
Inagawa-kai godfather Kiyota Jiro sips ceremonial sake

What we observe in recent years is the entrance of familiar yet unsubstantiated popular assumptions about yakuza ethnicity/genealogy into official pronouncements on organized crime.  The following remarks are extracted from a speech by Suganuma Mitsuhiro, former bureau chief at the Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA), Japan’s national intelligence agency, which investigates terrorist organizations, international crime syndicates, and the major yakuza gangs: “The composition of the 90,000 members of Japan’s yakuza, including both full-time and part-time members, is as follows: 60% of all yakuza members are persons connected to the Dōwa Projects [dōwa no kankeisha], another 30% are resident Koreans [zainichi], and the remaining 10% are either Chinese or non-Dōwa Japanese’.”38

The Dōwa (Assimilation) Projects were social programs implemented between 1969 and 2002 with the aim of improving the lives of Burakumin; thus ‘persons connected to the Dōwa projects’ is merely a euphemism for Burakumin.  By Suganuma’s own admission these figures were not obtained via scientific means.39 In the context of his speech the distasteful insinuation is that the criminality of the yakuza is unsurprising given that most are of foreign or ‘impure’ stock. As criminologists have long pointed out, law enforcement officials everywhere have strong incentives to promulgate these sorts of ‘alien conspiracy’ theories of organized crime: ‘It explains their inability to eliminate organized crime, it disguises the role of political and business corruption in organized crime, and it provides fertile ground for new resources, powers, and bureaucratic expansion’ (Lyman & Potter 2000:65-6).

NPA posters depict the yakuza as un-Japanese
NPA posters depict the yakuza as un-Japanese

Contrary to Suganuma’s statements, the consensus among yakuza-watchers today is that the gangs have drifted far from their original social base.  Miyazaki Manabu, a Burakumin whose father was a yakuza boss in Kyoto in the 1950s, knows the situation well.  As Miyazaki sees it, the early yakuza functioned as a medium between the lower or peripheral parts of society and the mainstream (as regulators of the urban underclass, as survival mechanisms for marginalized groups, etc.). The modern yakuza have not forfeited this role entirely, as seen in their recruitment drive for the Fukushima power plant.  But Miyazaki insists that they now mostly operate within mainstream society (as money-lenders, conmen, drug-dealers, thieves, etc.). Thus the 21st-century yakuza do not wield the social power of the early gangs, which were rooted in the bottom layers of Japanese society: ‘Now those roots have vanished, they have melted into society as a whole, and the yakuza gangs have turned into mafias’ (Miyazaki 2007:375).

Yakuza historian Ino Kenji has reached the same conclusion. In his 1993 history of the yakuza in the Showa period Ino hailed the yakuza gangs as ‘rebel armies at the bottom of Japanese society’ whose soldiers came mostly from the ‘discriminated social stratum’ (Ino 1993:303). Today he sees things differently: ‘My impression is that dropouts from mainstream society now make up the large part of the yakuza population’ (Ino 2008:262). Sociologist Yamada Hideo points to improvements in educational and job opportunities for minority groups such as Burakumin and Koreans, and to economic constraints on the gangs themselves. With unemployment rates currently high in Japan there are plenty of men looking for work, but the gangs cannot afford to take them: ‘When the economy was booming, the yakuza gangs were the last place of refuge for the poor, the ones society had left behind.  But today the gangs will only accept men who they know are economically viable’ (Yamada 2010:95).

Foreign crime gangs in Japan

The influx of foreign visitors and immigrants that followed relaxations of Japanese immigration laws during the 1990s has introduced a variety of other nationalities into the discourse on organized crime. In the past, criminologists have criticized NPA publications for portraying crime statistics ‘in such a way as to convey the greatest sense of a foreign threat’ (Friman 1996:971). Although there have been some improvements, alien conspiracy theories still thrive. Thus the latest NPA White Paper, after disclosing that the annual number of foreigners arrested in Japan has dropped for the sixth consecutive year (to just under 7,000), offers this analysis:

The total number of arrests relating to crimes committed by foreigners in Japan showed a decrease in 2010. Nonetheless, considered in the context of criminal globalization, where Japan is being infiltrated by international crime gangs comprising criminals of increasingly diverse nationalities and there is a general spread of criminal activities around the world, the problem of foreigners coming to Japan to commit crime remains severe (NPA 2011c:23).

Public discussion of organized crimes by foreigners, and by Asian nationals in particular, is increasingly tinged with racist innuendo or irrationally linked to war history. On the alleged rise of Chinese street gangs in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward one tabloid journalist exclaims, ‘The Chinese gangs have played the Japanese yakuza like puppets and bought up land in Shinjuku as if they were taking revenge for the war.  Exploiting their status as victors in the war, they have helped themselves to our entertainment district’ (Mook 2005:78).  Speaking before Ground Self-Defense Forces in April 2000, the governor of Tokyo, Ishihara Shintarō, blamed Japan’s supposedly deteriorating public safety levels on ‘violent crimes by sangokujin’ (‘people from the three countries’, a wartime pejorative for Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese nationals).40 In 2007 a manga-style book entitled Gaijin hanzai ura fairu (Secret Files on Crimes by Foreigners) incited a storm of complaints from foreign residents for its unashamedly xenophobic tone.  The editor defended the publication as an attempt to initiate serious discussion, and characterized general anxiety about the issue of crimes by foreigners as follows: ‘Whether it’s a North Korean agent kidnapping our daughters or a Chinese thief invading our homes, many Japanese are convinced that foreigners should be treated with suspicion and fear’.41

Japanese bloggers similarly disseminate poisonous myths about foreigners and organized crime. As above, Koreans and Chinese are the main targets. Rumi Sakamoto, who has examined the phenomenon of Japanese online xenophobia, notes that ‘Koreans are associated with excrement, rubbish, public urination, stealing, prostitution, violence, illegal activity and obscenity.’42 A former police detective has claimed in print that Chinese gangsters will kill anyone in Japan for ¥500,000.43

Undeniably, foreigners have been involved in some conspicuous organized crimes in Japan. On December 22, 2001 a North Korean espionage boat sank off the coast of Kyushu after exchanging gunfire with Japanese Coastguard patrol boats; investigators recovered a cell phone from the wreckage and found that 120 calls had been placed to a Korean-born yakuza boss in Tokyo. Japanese newspapers headlined: ‘North Korea raises cash by selling crystal meth [in our country]’.44 The biggest robbery ever perpetrated in Japan, the ¥3.5 billion diamond heist from Ginza jewelers Le Supre-Diamant Couture De Maki in March 2004, was the work of a Serbia- and Montenegro-based gang of thieves whom Interpol have nicknamed ‘The Pink Panthers’.45 In March 2005 an Iranian man was shot dead in a Roppongi bar amid a territorial dispute between rival Iranian drug dealers.46 In April 2006 a Côte d’Ivoire diplomat left Japan in a hurry after police revealed that he had allowed a gang of yakuza gamblers to use his luxury apartment as a baccarat pit.47 Official reports on foreign criminals in Japan now feature a glittering international cast: Brazilian burglars, Turkish smugglers, Nigerian car-thieves, Peruvian drug-traffickers, Thai marriage-brokers, etc.  The stories can be colorful but the numbers remain extremely small: ‘In regard to internationally active criminal organizations which infiltrated Japan during 2010, 15 people were arrested for 112 offences’ (NPA 2011b:11). Set against developments in transnational organized crime elsewhere – illicit transfers of high-grade weapons by the Russian Mob, worldwide distribution of heroin and opium by Chinese triads – Japan’s problems are minor.

Among the Japanese public it is not the frequency so much as the perceived violent nature of crimes committed by foreigners that causes concern. The yakuza are image-conscious; they know that too much visible violence is bad for business. Foreign criminals targeting Japan, especially those who enter the country illegally, are mostly short-term opportunists whose only concern is to get away safely.  Some are wanted by police in their home countries and fear that capture in Japan will mean deportation and possibly execution; hence they can be dangerous when challenged. In June 2007 a policeman responding to what he thought was a routine shoplifting incident in a Saitama drug store was attacked and slashed with a craft knife; he had crossed paths with a six-man Vietnamese shoplifting gang.48 There have been several incidents where commuters required medical attention after gangs of Korean pickpockets released tear gas inside Japanese train stations to evade arrest.49 Incidents like these understandably attract frenzied media attention, which in turn can prompt careless generalizations about foreigners and organized crime.

As usual, the JFBA fans the flames by warning the Japanese public that ‘organized gangs of criminal foreigners are availing themselves of the rich information and personnel networks of the yakuza’ to carry out crimes such as ‘smuggling operations, theft of luxury cars for sale overseas, illegal work, distribution of illegal narcotics, and the sale of firearms’ (JFBA 2004:44). There are no untruths here, only a lack of context and proportion, since JFBA reports are mostly devoid of statistical data. For example, while Japan depends on overseas suppliers for its illegal drugs, the drug problem itself is very much a domestic one – and a yakuza one: of the 20,624 people arrested for drug-related offences in Japan during 2010, 538 (3.7%) were foreigners and 7,060 (48.6%) were Japanese yakuza.50

Chinese crime gangs in Japan

A statistic well-publicized by the Japanese media in recent years is that nearly half of the crimes by foreigners in Japan are committed by Chinese. This figure is accurate.51 In the first decade of this century the number of Chinese nationals registered in Japan rose from 300,000 to 680,000, and the crime rate has risen accordingly. Consequently, the activities of Chinese crime gangs in Japan have come under the spotlight.

Police note ‘a very close association between Chinese crime gangs and the yakuza’ (NPA 2011b:28). Gangs of Chinese thieves work in conjunction with the yakuza, who, for a cut of the profits, offer information and logistical support (e.g. by directing the thieves to houses of wealthy persons). Recently, Chinese thieves have been avoiding city areas and instead targeting provincial regions where there is a relatively low awareness of crime, committing burglaries and robberies, and sometimes stealing ATMs. The gangs work intensively while traveling around Japan. A gang of ten Chinese apprehended in Osaka in July 2010 was charged with 152 counts of burglary in half a dozen prefectures; the total value of the stolen goods was estimated at more than ¥140 million.52

Chinese gangs running protection rackets in entertainment districts have sometimes come into conflict with the yakuza. Once content to confine their activities to the recognized Chinatown districts of Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki, in recent years Chinese street gangs have exhibited a greater boldness. In September 2002 three Chinese men belonging to a gang calling itself the Tōhoku gurūpu (Northeast Group) shot dead two high-ranking members of the Sumiyoshi-kai in a coffee shop near Shinjuku Station. The murders triggered a spate of attacks on Chinese-owned businesses around Shinjuku, and verbal attacks on China in the Japanese media.53 That Chinese gangsters could dare to challenge one of the most powerful yakuza syndicates in this way seems to have offended Japanese patriotic pride. The police promptly set up a so-called ‘environmental clean-up program’ in Shinjuku, the dubious implication being that the area was clean until the Chinese arrived.54

Though police and news media identify these gangs as ‘Chinese mafia’ (Chūgoku mafuia), this term is somewhat misleading. The Chinese gangsters who cause the sort of violence that makes news headlines belong to fairly small street gangs; contrary to suggestions in the Japanese press, there is little evidence that they are extensions of mainland Chinese crime syndicates.  In the early 2000s, for example, it was being reported that the 14K, the notorious Hong Kong triad syndicate, had established offices in half a dozen Japanese cities and already boasted an army of several thousand men; this turned out to be a case of scaremongering. With the exception of the so-called shé tóu (Snakeheads), specialists in human-trafficking, the Chinese gangs active in Japan are for the most part independent and indigenous: they are loosely organized, opportunistic groups that were formed in Japan, though they often contain migrant triad members and cooperate with mainland syndicates in money-laundering and smuggling operations.55

It is also worth noting here that Chinese youths are a forceful presence in the world of the bōsōzoku (motorcycle gangs). One of the largest syndicates in Japan at the moment is the Akabane Kajin Renmei-kai (Akabane Chinese Federation, known as the ‘Chai-ren’).  Chinese motorcycle gangs are better organized than their Japanese counterparts and have access to a wider range of resources, being generously supported by an older generation of Chinese males.  Whereas the Japanese gangs spend much of their time fighting each other, a sense of shared ethnicity among the Chinese seems to cancel out internal rivalries, enabling them to direct their energies outward.

Chinese youth gangs cause problems in their local areas by committing robberies, attempting to extort security payments from bars and brothels, and fighting with customers. They also indulge in recreational violence in the manner of European soccer hooligans, posting challenges to Japanese gangs on the internet and advertising locations for prearranged brawls. Excepting the occasional fatal lynching, these activities take place well below the radar of police and media scrutiny. To proprietors of local bars and brothels, however, trouble caused by these Chinese gangs constitutes one reason to pay protection money to the yakuza. Hence a persistent underworld rumor that the yakuza actually pay the Chinese to cause the trouble.

Youth gangs, both Chinese and Japanese, can earn money from enforcement and security work for clubs, and from street-level drug-dealing. Yakuza bosses sometimes hire local street gangs (once known in Japanese as gurentai, now more often called gyangu) to patrol the entertainment districts as on-call bouncers. A customer refusing to pay his bill at a hostess bar or massage parlor will within minutes be obliged to explain himself to members of the local gyangu, who usually are not good listeners.

Something must be said about the secret underworld society known as the Doragon (Dragon). This originated in the late 1980s as a motorcycle gang whose members were children of Japanese who had returned belatedly to Japan from China after being stranded at the end of the war. Doragon members gained notoriety in the 1990s for some audacious displays of violence, including attacks on police boxes and police cars.56 The gang has since swelled in size and today operates throughout the Kantō region. Police have little data on the Doragon. It is possibly more an underworld guanxi network than a gang.  Much of its business is apparently legitimate: nightclubs, strip clubs, call-girl agencies, and import companies. But in the past Doragon members have clashed violently with one of the major yakuza syndicates over territorial rights in entertainment districts.  Police classify the Doragon as a ‘Chinese mafia’ and accuse it of extortion, drug-trafficking, and multiple murders.57

 1998: An early article on the Doragon, ‘the baddest motorcycle gang in Japan’. The gang has since developed into an underworld fraternity.

The Japanese press has recently begun reporting on the Doragon more closely, often in the hyperbolic language reserved for foreign criminals. On the evening of June 14, 2011 a 45-year-old Tokyo yakuza got into an argument with a man unknown to him in front of a Chinese restaurant in Kinshichō.  The man fetched a carving knife from the restaurant and, after a chase, succeeded in slicing off one of the gangster’s ears. Police arrested the attacker and some weeks later identified him as a senior member of the Doragon. Media reports stressed the ‘cruelty’ of the attack, as if Japanese gangsters never do any slicing.58

Aside from such isolated incidents, there have been few reports of tension between the yakuza and Chinese gangs in recent years. Since Japan banned North Korean ships from entering its ports in 2003, most of the amphetamines reaching Japan now come from or via China. The yakuza thus have good reason to forge partnerships with Chinese gangs. There are also signs of contact at executive level: yakuza representatives were spotted among mourners at the funeral of Lee Chao-hsiung, leader of Taiwan’s Big Lake Gang, in April 2010.59 In a 2011 survey of imprisoned yakuza gang members, 11.3% of respondents said that their gang had a working relationship with a Chinese crime gang; strikingly, 7.5% of these said that the Chinese gang was the dominant partner in the relationship. The main purposes of interaction were exchange of information, disposal of stolen property, and drug deals.60 Just as the Italian Mafia has grudgingly accepted the presence of Albanian crime gangs in Italy, the yakuza appear to have accepted the Chinese gangs, and the two sides have settled into a harmonious and mutually profitable coexistence.

Popular perceptions of the yakuza

Support for the anti-yakuza movement is not universal. Some analysts dismiss it as a strategic distraction from more serious problems such as rising poverty, irregularities in the labor market, and chronic social inequality.61 Others question the tactics of anti-yakuza campaigners and the legality of the countermeasures. Akahata, the newspaper of the Japanese Communist Party, has condemned some recent amendments to the Anti-Yakuza Law as infringements of basic civil liberties.  The old argument that Japanese society is better off with the yakuza than without them still has its advocates. One pundit asks, ‘Which do we really want: a well-ordered underworld or a chaotic underworld? Getting rid of the yakuza would definitely not mean that everything becomes clean and safe.’62 Supporters of the ‘necessary evil’ argument insist that many Japanese voluntarily take their problems to the yakuza, and point to the third of the three imperatives posted at the entrances to most Japanese banks and post offices: ‘Yakuza: don’t fear them, don’t pay them, don’t use them’.63

In August 2011 a popular talk show host named Ogura Tomoaki caused controversy by making the following comments in relation to the yakuza-exclusion ordinances during a live broadcast:

‘The fact is, when you’ve got a problem that no one else can solve – not the police, not your lawyer, your agent, your company, or whatever – at times like that there are people who can apply a bit of pressure and solve it for you.  Pressure groups, and, well okay, people in the underworld…. Even though you know it’s wrong, sometimes it’s the only way to get your problem sorted out.’64

Though various indignant luminaries, including a Diet member, censured Ogura during the next few days, his comments can probably be taken as representative of a small but solid minority of Japanese who accept the role of the yakuza as unofficial enforcers in Japanese society.

Police acknowledge the ambivalence of public attitudes toward the yakuza:

As is well known, yakuza gangs are the largest criminal organizations in Japan. They infest every region of the country, using violence to intimidate the public. It cannot be denied, however, that, due to confusion over noble-sounding words such as ninkyō (yakuza notion of chivalry) and jingi (yakuza justice), there is a pernicious tendency in our society to tolerate the existence of these gangs, or to regard them as exciting and exotic (NPA 2007a:1).

Naturally, the yakuza take every opportunity to encourage this tendency. Their mock-heroic response to the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami was a prime example. Another yakuza public relations effort is the Zenkoku Kokudo Dōmei (National Purification League), a registered political organization that supposedly works to rid Japan of drugs; the League is run from the headquarters of the Yamaguchi-gumi. While the police insinuate that the yakuza are un-Japanese, yakuza like to present themselves as ultra-Japanese: fervent patriots, modern samurai, upholders of a feudal ethic untouched by Westernization.

Few Japanese, if any, accept that view of the yakuza today. Nonetheless, it appears that awareness of the fundamental criminality of the yakuza does not preclude a degree of respect for their achievements. Young Yakuza, a French-made movie-documentary of 2007, follows the progress of a troublesome Tokyo boy whose despairing mother entrusts him to the care of her local yakuza gang, members of the Inagawa-kai. ‘Don’t worry,’ one of them reassures her, ‘we’ll teach your son all he needs to know about the importance of etiquette’.65 The mother makes a solemn bow, sealing her son’s fate. The scene is apparently not uncommon, and surely underscores the efficacy of yakuza self-projection techniques. We see the new recruit shopping for the gang’s groceries, folding table napkins, serving tea, and kneeling nervously at his boss’s feet to receive his end-of-year bonus. ‘The underworld has its own laws,’ the boss growls at the camera, ‘and they’re tougher than any you’ll find in the ordinary world’.66

The range of popular perceptions of the yakuza can be gauged from the titles of some recent Japanese books: Management Skills of the Yamaguchi-gumi (2005), Yakuza Techniques for Overcoming Business Hurdles through Successful Speaking and Listening (2006), Modern Yakuza Tips for Making Cash (2008), the ominous-sounding Yakuza Techniques for Dealing with Complaints (2010), and, for romantic hopefuls, Choosing your Man: Yakuza Tips for Telling a Winner from a Loser (2008).67 Frivolous though they are, such publications obviously pander to a pervasive and envious admiration of perceived yakuza skills. More than chivalry, it seems, it is the sheer survivability of the yakuza that commands respect.

Yakuza are conscious of their international notoriety and welcome attention from foreign journalists, whose gullibility they exploit to disseminate yakuza propaganda. A 2009 CBS report on the yakuza was full of preposterous yet unchallenged claims about the code of the samurai, ninja-like yakuza assassinations on rainy days (to ‘wash away trace evidence’), and graveyards of yakuza victims beneath Tokyo buildings. ‘We don’t hide the fact that we’re yakuza,’ declared one yakuza boss, speaking anonymously, with his voice disguised and his face blacked out to conceal his identity.68

As evidenced in the CBS report, since the 1970s the US government has consistently overestimated the power of the yakuza and the threat they pose to the US. In 2001 the FBI made special arrangements that enabled a Yamaguchi-gumi gang boss, Gōtō Tadamasa, to visit the US for a liver transplant. Gōtō had apparently convinced the FBI that he could provide them with information about significant yakuza activity in the US. Of course he could not: his information led to the seizure of some hidden yakuza money, nothing more. After receiving his new liver the old crook hurried back to Japan, where he eventually shaved his head and became a Buddhist monk – probably more for the tax benefits than the spiritual ones.

Yet US officials and journalists continue to overestimate the yakuza. In July 2011 the State Department included the yakuza on a list of ‘significant transnational criminal organizations’ which are ‘entrenched in the operations of foreign governments’ and ‘facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts’, thereby ‘undermining democratic institutions.’69 Yakuza-connected corporate fraudsters certainly pose a threat to international financial markets through their scams and stock manipulations. Beyond that, however, the only notable yakuza operations in the US so far this century have been money-laundering schemes.70


In the end there is probably no such thing as eradication of organized crime; there is only containment. The notion of ‘yakuza exclusion’ may also be rather naïve. In Japan, as elsewhere, identifiable social, cultural, and structural conditions create roles for organized criminals. That is what Miyazaki Manabu means when he says, ‘The yakuza are built into Japanese society’.71 The prevalence of yakuza problem-solvers and enforcers, for instance, points to the lethargy of Japan’s judicial system. Rampant yakuza intervention in civil disputes highlights the lack of expeditious dispute-resolution mechanisms. The readiness of land developers to seek yakuza help similarly highlights Japan’s complex and cumbersome property laws. The success of yakuza operatives in the stock market has painfully demonstrated the inadequacy of existing regulatory standards while exposing the extent of institutionalized malpractice. Corporate-level blackmailers would soon go out of business if there were no shameful corporate secrets for them to expose. Secret casinos and gambling rings cannot operate efficiently without the organizational and enforcement skills of the yakuza. The massive proliferation of yakuza moneylenders in Japan during the last two decades is obviously symptomatic of a whole host of problems relating to, among other things, the job market, the savings and loans industry, social welfare benefits, and the national pension system. As long as industry recruiters demand disposable laborers, yakuza brokers will be there to supply them.

There is disagreement among the yakuza themselves about where to go from here, with some wanting to preserve the old yakuza ways and others keen to go completely underground. For many yakuza the exclusion ordinances have simply increased the appeal of total secrecy. One gang boss says, ‘If the police are going to harass everyone like this just for being yakuza, or just for being associated with yakuza, then we might as well become a secret society like the Mafia. Everything would be better for us that way: the police wouldn’t be able to use the Anti-Yakuza Law on us, and if one of our boys gets busted he won’t get a longer sentence just because he’s a yakuza’.72 There is more to this than just tough talk. The Italian Mafia, a collection of invisible organizations with no official members or offices, survived a crackdown on organized crime that began in the early 1990s, reorganized its operations, and is now believed to be Italy’s biggest business, accounting for 7% of the nation’s GDP.73

If the Yamaguchi-gumi continues to shed 2,000 members a year, in less than ten years more than half the syndicate will have gone underground. This is sure to affect the way the yakuza run their rackets and structure their organizations. Many are confident that greater covertness will make them more effective. But it may also have detrimental consequences, such as weakening the grip of yakuza bosses over their underlings. On the other hand, perhaps a less rigidly hierarchical, more freely entrepreneurial criminal underworld will hold greater appeal for young Japanese men who see the yakuza as just another orthodoxy. To keep track of such changes Japan’s law enforcement agencies will need to revise their investigative methods and sharpen their analyses of underworld trends. Equating crime gangs with minority groups is unlikely to achieve effective crime control.

Despite the frantic pronouncements of the NPA and the popular media, Japan does not have a severe problem of foreign crime gangs. However, if the Chinese immigrant population continues to swell, there is a possibility of conflict between Chinese gangs and the yakuza as the Chinese become less reliant on native support.

It remains to be seen whether the exclusion ordinances will have the intended effect of starving the yakuza of income. The sharp rise in the number of shooting incidents in the second half of last year suggests that they are having some effect.

The yakuza will need to reinvent themselves if they hope to prosper in the future. Given their impressive record of resilience and adaptability, the safe bet is that they will succeed. To do so, however, will require more drastic changes than any they accomplished in the last century, and it looks increasingly likely that those changes will mean the demise of many aspects of yakuza culture.

Andrew Rankin lived in Japan for nearly twenty years and studied at Tokyo University. He is currently in the Japanese Department at Cambridge University, writing up a PhD dissertation on Mishima Yukio’s non-fiction.  He is the author of Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide (Kodansha International, 2011).

Recommended citation: Andrew Rankin, ‘Recent Trends in Organized Crime in Japan: Yakuza vs the Police, & Foreign Crime Gangs’ – Part 2,’ The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 10, Issue 7, No 1, February 20, 2012.


Some of the information in this article was obtained discreetly from underworld sources.

Akahata 2004: Shinbun Akahata shuzaihan, Uragane: keisatsu no hanzai (Secret Money: The Crimes of the Police).  Shin Nihon Shuppansha.

Bōtsui sentā 2003: Bōtsui tomin sentā, 10-nen no ayumi (Ten years of the Citizens Center for Eliminating Organized Crime). Bōryokudan tsuihō undō suishin tomin sentā.

Friman 1996: Friman, H.  Richard, ‘Gaijinhanzai: Immigrants and Drugs in Contemporary Japan’.  Asian Survey, Vol. 36 No. 10, 1996.

Gōtō 2010: Gōtō Tadamasa, Habakari-nagara (I don’t mean to be rude, but…).  Takarajimasha.

Hill 2006: Hill, Peter, The Japanese Mafia: Yakuza, Law, and the State.  Oxford University Press.

Ino 1993: Ino Kenji, Yakuza to Nihonjin (The Yakuza and the Japanese).  Gendai Shokan.

Ino 2008: Ino Kenji, Yamaguchi-gumi gairon (A Summary of the Yamaguchi-gumi).  Chikuma Shinsho.

Ishida 2002: Ishida Osamu, Chūgoku no kuroshakai (The Chinese Underworld).  Kodansha.

JC 2009: Japan Customs and Tariff Bureau, Trends in Illicit Drugs and Firearms Smuggling in Japan (2009 Edition). Ministry of Finance.

JFBA 2004: Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Q&A Bōryokudan 110-ban: kisho chishiki kara toraburu jirei to taiō made (Q&A on Yakuza: from basic knowhow to examples of trouble and countermeasures).  Minjihō Kenkyūkai.

JFBA 2010: Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Hanshakaiteki seiryoku to futō-yōkyū no konzetsu e no chōsen to kadai (Challenges and Problems involved in Eradicating Antisocial Forces and Undue Claims).  Kinyū Zaisei Jijō Kenkyūkai.

Kaplan & Dubro 1987: Kaplan, David E., and Dubro, Alec, Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld.  London: Queen Anne Press.

Kitashiba 2003: Kitashiba Ken, Nippon higōhō chitai (Japan’s Illegal Zone).  Fusōsha.

Koishikawa 2004: Koishikawa Zenji (ed.), Muhō to akutō no minzokugaku (Folk Studies on Outlaws and Villains).  Hihyōsha.

Koizumi 1988: Koizumi Tesaburō, Suri daikenkyo (The Great Pickpocket Crackdown).  Tōkyō Hōkei Gakuin Shuppan.

Limosin 2007: Limosin, Jean-Pierre, Young Yakuza (French-subtitled documentary movie).

Lyman & Potter 2000: Lyman, Michael D. and Potter, Gary W., Organized Crime.  New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Mandel 2011: Mandel, Robert.  Dark Logic: Transnational Criminal Tactics and Global Security, Stanford University Press, 2011.

Matsumoto 2008: Matsumoto Hiroki, Kyōseisha: kabushiki shijō no kuromaku to yakuza manē (Collaborators: Yakuza money and the Dark Side of the Stock Market).  Takarajimasha.

Mediax 2008: Rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi kanzen dētā BOOK 2008 nenban.  (Complete Data on the Sixth Yamaguchi-gumi in 2008).  Mediax.

Miyazaki 2007: Miyazaki Manabu, Kindai yakuza kōtei-ron: Yamaguchi-gumi no 90 nen (A Positive Theory of the Modern Yakuza: 90 Years of The Yamaguchi-gumi), Chikuma Shobō.

Mizoguchi 2005: Mizoguchi Atsushi, Pachinko 30-chōen no yami (Pachinko: ¥3 trillion darkness).  Shōgakkan.

Mizoguchi 2011a: Mizoguchi Atsushi, Yamaguchi-gumi dōran!! (Turmoil in the Yamaguchi-gumi!!).  Take Shobō.

Mizoguchi 2011b: Mizoguchi Atsushi, Yakuza hōkai: shinshoku sareru rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi (Yakuza Collapse: The Erosion of the Yamaguchi-gumi).  Kōdansha.

Mizoguchi 2011c: Mizoguchi Atsushi, Bōryokudan (The Yakuza).  Shinchō Shinsha.

Mizoguchi 2011d: Mizoguchi Atsushi, Yamaguchi-gumi dōran!! (Turmoil in the Yamaguchi-gumi!!).  Revised Edition.  Take Shobō.

MOJ 1989:  Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Heisei gannen hanzai hakusho (White Paper on Crime 1989).

MOJ 2011: MOJ, Heisei 23-nen hanzai hakusho (White Paper on Crime 2011).

Mook 2005: Mook Y Henshūbu, Yamaguchi-gumi Tōkyō sensō (The Yamaguchi-gumi’s Tokyo War).  Yōsuisha.

MPD 2011: Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Tōkyō-to bōryokudan haijo jōrei (Tokyo Yakuza-Exclusion Ordinance).

Nakano 2010: Nakano Jirō, Ura-shakai: uwasa no shinsō (The Truth about the Underworld).  Saizusha.

NHK 2008: NHK yakuza manē shuzaihan (NHK Investigative Team), Yakuza manē (Yakuza Money).  NHK.

NPA 2007a: National Police Agency (NPA), Heisei 19-nen kamihanki bōryokudan jōsei (The State of Organized Crime in the First Two Quarters of 2007).

NPA 2007b: NPA, Kensetsugyō ni okeru futō-yōkyū nado ni kansuru jittai chōsa (Survey of Extortion in the Construction Industry).

NPA 2010a: NPA, Heisei 21-nen bōryokudan jōsei (Yakuza Crime in 2009).

NPA 2010b: NPA , Heisei 21-nen soshiki hanzai no jōsei (Organized Crime in 2009).

NPA 2011a: NPA, Heisei 22-nen bōryokudan jōsei (Yakuza Crime in 2010).

NPA 2011b: NPA, Rainichi gaikokujin hanzai no kenkyo jōkyō: Heisei 22-nen kakuteichi (Crimes by Foreign Nationals in Japan).NPA 2011c: NPA, Heisei 23-nenban keisatsu hakusho (NPA White Paper 2011).

NPA 2011d: NPA, Heisei 22-nenchū no yakubutsu/tōki jōsei (Crimes related to Drugs and Guns during 2010).

NPA 2011e: NPA, Heisei 23-nendo gyōsei taishō bōryoku ni kansuru ankēto (2011 Questionnaire relating to Violence against Governmental Bodies).

RFSS 2011: Shakai Anzen Kenkyū Zaidan (Research Foundation for Safe Society), Nicchū soshiki hanzai kyōdō kenkyū, Nihon-gawa hōkokusho: Bōryokudan jukeisha ni kansuru chōsa hōkokusho (Survey of Incarcerated Yakuza Gang Members), June 2011.

Senba 2009: Senba Toshirō, Genshoku keikan ‘uragane’ naibu kokuhatsu (A Serving Policeman Exposes ‘Secret Money’), Kōdansha.

Shapinsky 2009: Shapinsky, Peter D., ‘Predators, Protectors, and Purveyors’, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 64 No. 2, 272-313.

Siniawer 2008: Siniawer, Eiko Maruko.  Ruffians, Yakuza, and Nationalists: The Violent Politics of Modern Japan 1860-1960.  Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press.

Suga 2008: Shuga Shin’ichirō, Burakku mane: 20-chōen yami-keizai ga Nihon wo mushibamu (Black Money: How a ¥20-trillion black economy is eroding Japan).  Shinchōsha.

Suganuma 2006: Suganuma Mitsuhiro, ‘The Current State of Organized Crime in Japan’, speech given at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, October 19, 2006.

Tamura 1974: Tamura Eitarō, Yakuza no seikatsu (The Yakuza Life).  Yūzankaku Shuppan.

Yamada Hideo, ‘Kakusa shakai to yakuza’ (Social Inequality and the Yakuza), in Miyazaki Manabu and Ino Kenji (eds), Bōryokudan kaimetsu-ron: yakuza haijo shakai no yukue (Theorizing Yakuza Annihilation: the Future of Society without the Yakuza). Chikuma Shobō.


1 Tamura 1974:262-64.

2 SECTA website.

3 Mizoguchi 2005:150.

4 Nakano 2010:117.

5 ‘2-keikan ga bōryokudan ni jōhō rōei ka’, Sankei shinbun, March 21, 2010.

6 ‘Moto binwan ‘akutoku deka’ ga gekihaku! Hokkaidō-kei no yami’, Shūkan asahi, December 9, 2011.

7 Mizoguchi 2011a:17-21.

8 NPA 2011a:7.

9 MOJ 2011:27.

10 ‘Keisatsuchō: Yamaguchi-gumi kaimetsu sakusen de chika ni moguri mafuika suru bōryokudan no kyōfu’, Gendai bujinesu, January 13, 2011.

11 ‘Bōryokudan shasatsu jiken de muzai hanketsu’, Sankei shinbun, February 7, 2011.

12 ‘Record 47 wiretap arrests made’, The Japan Times, February 5, 2011.

13 MPD 2011:1.

14 ‘Nihon saidai no yakuza soshiki wa keisatsu desu‘, BLOGOS, November 11, 2011.

15 ‘Bōryokudan haijo jōrei no sōdan daiyaru o setchi’, Sankei shinbun, October 14, 2011.

16 ‘Keisatsuchō, minkan hogo kyōka e SP shinsetsu’, Nikkei shinbun, December 12, 2011.

17 ‘Zenkoku de bōhai-jōrei shikō: iyō na jidai ga kita’, Sankei shinbun, October 1, 2011.

18 ‘Bōryokudan haijo jōrei: kisei-nogare ni yakki’, Mainichi shinbun, December 2, 2011.

19 Jones, Colin P. A., ‘Tokyo Ordinance a Potential Contract Killer’, The Japan Times, November 15, 2011.

20 ‘Kōdō-kai no meishi seisaku: Fukuoka kenkei ga 5sha ni keikoku/chūi’, Yomiuri shinbun, October 14, 2011.

21 ‘Bōryokudan tsuihō kyoten wa moto no kumi-jimusho’, Sankei shinbun, February 1, 2010.

22 McNeill, David, & Adelstein, Jake, ‘Yakuza Wars,’ Asia-Pacific Journal, September 29, 2008. 

23 ‘Kumi jimusho tachiiri kinshi’, Yomiuri shinbun, April 28, 2011.

24 JFBA 2010:150.

25 Two Heisei-era prime ministers have so far resigned amid scandals regarding their personal finances: Hosokawa Morihiro (1994) and Hatoyama Yukio (2010).  In 2007 Agriculture Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu committed suicide after it was learned that he had been filing fraudulent expense claims.  Most recently, former DPJ leader Ozawa Ichirō has been charged with false accounting and financial irregularities relating to a land purchase.

26 Security Network Protection (SNP).

27 See also Matsumoto 2008:148-154.

28 ‘Fukueki-chū kumiin ni hōshōkin’, Asahi shinbun, February 28, 2011.

29 “Irezumi okotowari” mushi shi nyūyoku’, Yomiuri shinbun, January 12, 2010.

30 ‘Bōryokudan gorufujō riyō’, Sankei shinbun, July 27, 2011.

31 Mizoguchi 2011c:138.

32 ‘Bōryokudan kumichō dohyōshita de kansen’, Mainichi shinbun, January 26, 2010.

33 ‘Bōryokudan haijo no ugoki mo tsuyomaru shūkyōkai’, Sankei shinbun, November 17, 2011.

34 Ino 2008:34-5.

35 The etymology of the word yakuza is unknown.  A fanciful notion persists that it derives from the numbers 8-9-3 (ya-ku-za), which form a dud hand in the gamblers’ card game known as oichokabu.  People who believe this have obviously never played oichokabu.  There are many other dud hands, most of which have similarly memorable nicknames: the hand 8-9-3 was named after the yakuza, not the other way around.  It seems most likely that yakuza originated as a slang contraction of the old Japanese phrase yaku ni tatazaru, meaning ‘good for nothing’.

36 Miyazaki 2007:250.

37 Miyazaki recalls, ‘The yakuza gang was the nucleus of buraku industry.  If you were short of cash and desperately needed work, you went to the yakuza boss…. To rise from the slum, join a yakuza gang, and one day become a boss yourself – that was a buraku success story’.  Miyazaki 2007:243-4.

38 Suganuma 2006.

39 Suganuma gives his source as Kōdō-kai chairman Takayama Kiyoshi, who is, Suganuma implausibly claims, ‘a man with whom I am on very friendly terms.’

40 ‘“Sangokujin” label was regrettable but Ishihara refuses to apologize’, The Japan Times, April 22, 2000.

41 Saka Shigeki, ‘Why I did it’, Metropolis, February 16, 2007.

42 Sakamoto, Rumi, ‘“Koreans, Go Home!” Internet Nationalism in Contemporary Japan as a Digitally Mediated Subculture’, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 9, Issue 10 No 2, March 7, 2011.

43 Kitashiba 2003:236.

44 NPA, ‘North Korea’s espionage activities in Japan’; ‘Kakuseizai wa Kitachōsen no shikingen’, Sankei shinbun, May 12, 2006.

45 NPA 2011b:12.

46 ‘Shasatsu jiken de Iranjin saitaiho’, Sankei shinbun, March 5, 2009.

47 ‘Zainichi gaikōkan ga bōryokudan ni tobakujō teikyō’, Yomiuri shinbun, April 5, 2006.

48 NPA 2008:40.

49 ‘Tear gas injures dozens as pickpockets flee train’, The Japan Times, December 18, 1997; ‘Pickpockets spray tear gas, 27 hurt’, The Daily Yomiuri, April 7, 2006.

50 NPA 2011d:3.

51 RFSS 2011:28.  In 2009 Chinese nationals accounted for 45.2% of criminal cases involving foreigners arrested in Japan.

52 NPA 2011b:30.

53 Zainichi chūgokujin urashakai no don taiho’, Yomiuri shinbun, March 2, 2005; ‘Chūgoku mafia taiho’, Sankei shinbun, May 22, 2008.

54 ‘Sarani chūgokujin hitori wo taiho, Kabukichō happō jiken’, Sankei shinbun, February 26, 2003.

55 Ishida 2002:137-140.

56 ‘Doragon kanbura 4-nin kōban shūgeki de saitaiho’, Tōkyō shinbun, July 12, 1997; ‘Patokā osoi nakama wo dakkan, bōsōzoku 30-nin’, Tōkyō shinbun, November 27, 1997.

57 NPA 2011b:28.

58 ‘Tsuyoi kessoku to zankoku na teguchi: Doragon menbā shōgai yōgi de taiho’, Sankei shinbun, July 14, 2011.

59 ‘Politicians Attend Mobster’s Funeral’, The Taipei Times, April 27, 2010.

60 RFSS 2011:78-80; 134.

61 Miyazaki & Ino 2010:83.


63 Following the introduction of the yakuza-exclusion ordinances the Metropolitan Police Department now suggests a fourth imperative: ‘Don’t associate with them.’

64 Jōhō purezentā tokudane!, Fuji TV, August 24, 2011.

65 Limosin 2007.

66 Limosin 2007.

67 The Japanese titles are, respectively, Yamaguchi-gumi keieigaku (2005), Yakuza-shiki bujinesu no ‘kabe’ wo toppa suru hanasu gijutsu kiku gijutsu (2006), Gendai yakuza ni manabu zeni no tsukurikata (2008), Yakuza ni manabu kurēmu shori jutsu (2010), and Yakuza ni manabu nobiru otoko dame na yatsu (2008).

68 ‘Yakuza: Japan’s Not-so-Secret Mafia’, CBS, October 29, 2009.


70 The US media is quick to see the sinister hand of the yakuza behind Japanese political and financial scandals.  A recent example concerns the troubles at Olympus, where the staggering sum of $5 billion is unaccounted for.  As soon as the story broke in November 2011, the New York Times suggested that at least some of the money had been paid to the yakuza (‘Billions lost by Olympus may be tied to criminals’, The New York Times, November 17, 2011.)  Japanese newspapers repeated this allegation the following day.  Yet the committee investigating the Olympus affair, which includes senior detectives from the MPD anti-yakuza division, has so far found no trace of yakuza involvement.

71 Miyazaki 2007:257.

72 Mizoguchi 2011a:146.

73 ‘Mafia is Italy’s biggest business’, The Telegraph, January 13, 2012.

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Volume 10 | Issue 7 | Number 1

Article ID 3692

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